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Published: August 9th 2014
The last eight days have been an interesting and exciting experience as I visited many places unlike anything I have ever seen before. Morocco is a country grounded in religious practices & rituals and its people have a real love for their country and its history. From its lush green fields to its rich red mountains, kasbah villages, & colorful labyrinth-like medinas, Morocco is truly unique.
On July 31st I started my journey in Casablanca, where I visited the Hassan II Mosque. After meeting up there with my travel group,we set out for Meknes where I saw the impressive 18th Century Bab Mansour gate to the Imperial City & saw what was left of the city after the huge earthquake of 1755. We then visited the Mausoleum of Sultan Moulay Ismail & toured the personal stable & grainery used for his 12,000 horses. Afterwards, we found ourselves in Fez where we got to see the Roman ruins of Volubilis, once an important Roman town and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ruins, set on top of a hill surrounded by what looks a lot like Tuscany, were mind blowing and instantly sent me back in time to
a period where large chiseled men in armor wrestled lions and rode chariots, relaxed in baths with beautiful women, and drank heaps and heaps of wine. Many of the mosaic floors were still in tact as were the towering marble pillars. We also got to roam the streets of the Fes medina--the world's largest living medieval medina. It was amazing! Vendors there were selling spices, tea, jewelry, leather goods from the tannery, and wedding garments, jewelry, & ceremonial furniture--amongst many other items. While in Fes, our group ate at an old riad that has been converted into a restaurant and we were entertained by the magicians and belly dancers. At one point, I was selected from the audience along with three Spanish women and one Spanish man and we were told to go upstairs without any explanation. There were three old women waiting for us and they began dressing us in traditional garb down to the shoes, belts, headpieces and jewelry. Unbeknownst to us, we had been selected to reenact a ceremonial wedding dance on stage at the front of the dining room in which the man was to marry his four brides. I was one of them.
After Fes we crossed the Middle Atlas Mountains and stopped along the way to take photos of Barbary monkeys. We finally arrived at the Sahara Desert where Mustafa, our guide, helped us tie our scarves into turbans in order to protect us from sand storms as we crossed the desert on our camels. We arrived at our campsite and set up camp under the desert stars. Unfortunately I slept terribly fearing more scorpions would come out (after someone found one crawling on his foot) and there was a strong wind that kept blasting me in the face with sand throughout the night. Nevertheless it was a beautiful and once in a lifetime experience. The next day was the day from hell when a bunch of us got sick and one by one started keeling over. I missed the the opportunity to see Todra Gorge because sleeping off my fever and staying close to a toilet seemed like my best option at the time. But the next day I was in better spirits when we arrived at Ait Ben Haddou via the the "Route of 1000 Kasbahs." This was probably my favorite town that we stayed in. The Kasbah, a
type of palace or fortress, has been restored and many people still call it their home. However, the majority of locals have moved to nearby settlements. It seemed very peaceful and there were beautiful panoramic views (I've included some photos here). I also tried my hand at a Moroccan cooking class. We made our own turkey tagine dishes. Can't wait to try this again when I get home.
Our final destination was Marrakech, where we also explored the medina there and witnessed the spectacular event that takes place at night. Thousands of people fill the square to eat at the local food stalls and to watch the magicians, snake charmers, monkey handlers, musicians, and street performers. A bit overwhelming for my liking but definitely a sight to see! We concluded the trip with a farewell group dinner and although I still wasn't well enough to eat more than soup, fruit & bread, I enjoyed the company of my new friends. I learned a lot on this trip and Mustafa was a great teacher. We got to talking a bit about cultural and religious expectations about marriage and relationships and he explained that in his family arranged marriage
is not mandatory but that it does happen and that some of his siblings have gone this route whereas others have opted to choose their own partner. Mustafa said to me, "I would like a Moroccan girl that is educated, enjoys to travel, respectable, a good person, sexy, and has a job. Is this too much to ask?" This discussion really got me thinking: although there are stark differences in terms of social, cultural and religious norms and practices between Morocco and home, we really aren't all that different when it comes down to the kind of person we would like to end up with. Although we sometimes use very different methods for meeting our prospective partners, the end goal tends to be the same. Mustafa's online dating profile would read: "intelligent & silly 29-year-old Berber-Moroccan Muslim man with a passion for travel and meeting new people seeks smart, educated, respectable & sexy Moroccan Muslim woman who enjoys the countryside and can accompany him on his travel adventures. Must be employed." So if you know someone who fits the bill...
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